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Unearthly Glow

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Michael was at a funeral home. Who’s funeral? He barely knew. The daughter of one of his mother’s friends. A 16-year-old, like Michael, which was sad in and of itself, but Michael didn’t feel very sad. He wasn’t trying to be cold or anything. Michael just didn’t know her. He cast a quick glance at the closed casket then at the picture sitting on top. She had been a fairly pretty girl. Michael didn’t want to be here. With an excess of cloyingly sweet flowers barely failing to mask the smell of embalming fluid. With quiet condolences, whispered reminiscence, and hushed crying mixing in a melody of grief, loss, and nostalgia. Sleeping babies who don’t even know where they are; silent toddlers staring at mommies and daddies in confusion as to what is going on; little kids sitting prim and proper with little shaking legs full of boundless energy; other teenagers, friends of Shiloh, looking shell shocked and tired; adults, some looking burdened and weary, others sympathetic. And then there was Michael, standing in the back of the viewing room (why they were here when the casket was closed, Michael couldn’t figure), desperately trying to look less awkward and ignore that incessant itch. Not the one at his collar, though he was trying to ignore that one, too, but the one in his feet that begged him to do something other than stand there trying not to see the picture of the dead girl. Finally, the itch was too strong. The door opened up with another couple and Michael ducked out as they went in. He let his feet do the thinking, following them wherever they decided to go.
Michael’s wandering led him to a dimmer part of the funeral home. It wasn’t being used at the moment, so the only light was that of a setting winter sun filtering through stained glass windows ahead. A soft melody, this one much nicer than the one in the viewing room, slowly drifted to Michael’s ears. Odd. The girl’s was the only family here today. He followed the sound to the end of the hall where it opened into a large sanctuary. A girl was there, sitting at the piano below a stained glass window of the archangel Michael, whose namesake he bore. The light around her was ethereal combined with pale, pale white skin and long, dark brown hair, braided down her back. “I didn’t realize Shiloh had a twin.” The melody stopped. Not quite abruptly, but it did leave an air of incompleteness to the notes fading from the air. She looked over at him. He couldn’t quite tell their color from where he stood.
“I guess most wouldn’t.” Her voice was quiet, but not like the other people’s. Hers seemed quiet by nature, not the forced tone from before. He approached slowly, glancing up at the figure of his namesake. They didn’t look too similar. The angel here was depicted with soft brown hair, long and flowing. Michael’s white blonde locks had been recently trimmed, now coming just to his ears. The angel looked strong and mighty as he pinned the devil down. Michael was all lanky and gangly, without a scrap of muscle to be seen. He came to a stop beside the piano. Even this close up, he couldn’t determine the color of her eyes.
“What are you doing here instead of with your family?”
“I could ask you the same thing.” Michael stayed quite, swearing he could hear his own breath and feel the throbbing of his own pulse. Finally, she spoke again. “I don’t like funeral homes.”
“What’s wrong with them?” Not that Michael disagreed.
“They don’t feel right. I feel trapped here, with the sickly smell of flowers and decay, not to mention the way people act. A funeral should be a celebration of life and sending your loved one off to paradise. But here, it’s all doom and gloom and grey skies. I’ve been here since they brought the body. It was such a pretty day today.” She turned back to the instrument and the melody started up again. Michael, who had not a rhythmic bone in his body, was thoroughly impressed by the song she seemed to be making up on the spot.
“I know how you feel. I mean, not completely, really. I’ve never lost someone like that, but I don’t really like the homes either. It’s like I can feel the ghosts of the gone lingering around, like they aren’t really gone yet.”
“You know, some versions of faith, particularly older, more traditional versions, believe that a soul cannot leave this world until a priest reads last rites and asks the angels to carry them on.” She said it so calmly, almost singing it with her tune. It surprised Michael that she would be so blunt about her sister’s death.
“O-oh. I didn’t know that, no.” She just kind of hummed something akin to affirmation. Suddenly, Michael felt like he was intruding on this girl’s private moment, probably her only private moment, to sit here and find some semblance of comfort in her music. His eyes lingered back up to the angel. From where he was standing, the angel could have been looking at him as much as the devil. Accusation was there in its eyes, telling him to leave the girl sitting in his heavenly glow. “I-I think I should be going now.”
The music stopped again and she looked at him with those eyes of indeterminate colors. Then she shrugged, “If you please,” and returned to making a gentle lullaby. Michael walked briskly but quietly, turning back only once to see that the angel had once again turned those vengeful eyes on the devil at his feet. By now, the sanctuary was almost lightless. Michael thought it slightly odd that the only light shone through the window onto the girl and the piano, but he figured the instrument must have been strategically placed like that. He turned back to the hall and walked a straight line to the light at its end, the lullaby fading behind him until, back in the florescent lighting, he couldn’t hear it at all. Still unable to keep still, he continued to wander for another 10 minutes, though careful to avoid the darkened halls leading to the sanctuary, until his mother found him and said it was time to go.
The car ride home was a drastic difference to the resigned quiet of the funeral home. His mother babbled, a lot. “Oh, poor Mary. I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose a child like that. And Luke! Five years away serving in the armed forces and the first time he comes home is for the funeral of his only daughter! Poor man.”
“Wait, only daughter? I thought Shiloh had a sister.”
“No dear. Two little brothers, twins, but no sisters.”
“But, I saw her…”
“You must have been mistaken. Or maybe you saw her cousin. She has a cousin that looks an awful lot like her. Like you and your cousin Trevor. Oh! His birthday is coming up. I must remember to send a gift. And a bouquet of Calla Lilies to that family from the shop. And your father…” Michael had stopped listening. His mind was back in the sanctuary with the girl enveloped in unearthly glow.

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